Author Topic: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far  (Read 2583 times)

Offline Flatfingers

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Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« on: February 08, 2011, 03:32:45 AM »
Oh, my.

I read about A Valley Without Wind over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun earlier today, and I had to come here to say YES! I'm enthusiastically looking forward to this game becoming a reality.

From what I've read of AVWW, I came up with a somewhat similar design concept myself a couple of years ago. I called it the Living World; the idea was that you'd play in an extremely large world, with enough story- and exploration-based content (which changes over time) that you could play in it every night for years and never run out of new places to see and new things to do.

Those interested can read more about this idea on my blog (http://flatfingers-theory.blogspot.com/2008/06/living-world-massively-single-player.html). Since this is the AVWW forum, though, I'd like to focus on this game as its features have been described or shown to us so far.

First, however, I quote the Official Statement:

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To some extent we're not really looking for community feedback on things like game mechanics prior to alpha, because, well, we generally are never interested in feedback from people that haven't played the game in question.

Fair enough. I quote this comment to make the point that I understand the ground rules, and that just because I'm interested in objectively discussing various gameplay mechanics doesn't imply that I'm advocating their inclusion in or exclusion from AVWW, or that I intend to argue with anyone in favor of or against this or that idea. No point in that. The developers will make the game they want to make, and my comments are intended to be just one data point among many of reaction to that actual game's elements.

That said...  ;)

Procedurally-generated world: YES. This is a requirement for unending exploration gameplay, which is a particular interest of mine as well as being a gamestyle preference that is currently going unsatisfied except in unusual games like Minecraft.

Dynamic world: YES, YES, YES. This is the aspect of AVWW that I am most interested in hearing more about, as it's the part that can help keep the game playable over long real-time stretches (as well as being a distinctive element for marketing the game if it's given serious design/implementation attention).

Crafting: YES. This is an often-overlooked form of exploration -- it's exploration of a creative system.

Leveling: MMMMAYBE. I'll have some comments on that in the "How will leveling work?" thread; for now, I'm reserving judgement until people can play the public alpha and report on how well this feature actually works for this particular game.

Permadeath (of sorts): YES. I've contended for some time now that permadeath can work if certain design requirements are met, such as being able to "will" some subset of the dying character's goods to the player's next incarnation, and that characters don't have levels. (I understand the current thinking may be that rather than characters having levels, it's actually the player who gains levels -- that might be enough for permadeath to work, since it eliminates most of the worst kind of loss when a character dies.)

Music: HMMM. Based on the current trailer, I'd hoped for something more ambient or orchestral. The square wave sound might be appropriate for a game that intentionally wanted to look and play like a retro 8-bit game, but it's not clear that this is intended to be such a game. (Is it?) This is possibly more a question of personal taste than Obvious Game Design Law, but I hope the comment is understood as being aimed at fitness for a particular game, not a criticism of the music itself.

Visual Look: NO. Again, this is not a criticism of the current art assets (as a long-time developer I can't draw or paint to save my life, so I'm in no position to criticize there), but of whether the art style is appropriate for the intended player experience. My feeling is that a game like this is much, much more immersive as a first-person 3D world -- somewhere in between Minecraft and CryEngine 3 would be just fine. On the other hand, that means cranking out a massive number of 3D assets, all of which is prohibitive for a relatively small independent studio. Even so (and bearing fully in mind that all we've seen so far are highly pre-alpha images), if I'm being honest then I have to acknowledge that I'm a little disappointed that a highly world-y concept like AVWW will be presented in a style that (IMO) makes immersiveness more difficult to achieve and maintain. Still, maybe I'm wrong, and the more stylized JRPG presentation will work just fine. I look forward to seeing more of it!

Overall, I'm very excited by what's been revealed so far about A Valley Without Wind. What's important is not how I'd make such a game, but that the folks who actually are making this game are encouraged to see their vision through to production. The game industry is desperately in need of such innovation, and I cheerfully support those who make the effort to create these new kinds of games.

Good luck!

--Flatfingers

Offline x4000

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2011, 10:32:27 AM »
Thanks for your support!  In terms of the music and the art, we're really happy about the music, and the art is something that's been flogged to death in many threads.  There's not much more for me to add at this stage.  3D is absolutely a 0% chance of happening.
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Offline Flatfingers

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2011, 11:52:00 AM »
Thanks for taking the time to respond -- it's sincerely appreciated.

On the various perspectives I mentioned, I completely understand that you're happy with your choices. Mentioning my preferences is nothing more than a single data point that can be considered or disregarded, whichever works for you. I'm not one of those gamers who feels a sense of entitlement, as though if you don't code something as I demand then it's clearly a personal insult. I'm just here because this sounds very close to a kind of game that's of special interest to me as both a gamer and an amateur game designer, and my comments don't carry any more weight than that.

So I definitely want to respect your preference that we out here don't talk about the design of AVWW in a way that might lead some readers to believe that you're soliciting ideas. Still, that leaves me scratching my head a little bit -- if we need to sort of ramp down discussion of design choices for this game, then what's left to talk about at this time?

Maybe I should ask it this way: what kinds of conversations can we have out here that would be helpful to you (or at least not interfering)? I want you to succeed -- how can we help?

Offline x4000

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2011, 12:18:23 PM »
My pleasure.

And please don't misunderstand and think that I'm not wanting anyone to post their thoughts -- my intention isn't to censor, or to silence all "opposition" or whatever.  Rather, what I was trying to say in both my original disclaimer and more recently is that I'm not going to engage in debate over the merits of one gameplay concept or another.  I've been down that road before, and when it's all conjectural, neither party can agree.  And what I need to be doing at this point is making the game, not talking on forums. 

We've been bitten in the past -- hard -- by not sharing info early enough so that there was no prerelease "buzz" about the game.  So here we are, sharing early and often.  In the case of the screenshots, that's been a mild disaster so far, but ultimately it probably won't hurt the project because the game won't always look like that.  In the case of the design commentary, the response has been pretty much unanimously positive with some small quibbles on this or that aspect, which is a lot better than I expected.  The press response in general has been a lot better, too.

So in a lot of respects it feels like we're "doing it right" this time in terms of the PR side of things, but it's a bit of new territory.  Normally I'm used to talking with players in depth about gameplay design aspects, and looking for ways to refine x or y aspect of the design, for instance.  That's quite routine with AI War, and even to some extent Tidalis.  But with AVWW, we can't start putting on detail polish until we finish the underlying structure.  And even moreso, we can't get into big debates with folks about the merits of this or that design trope, because it just is going to make us miss our target and ultimately nobody really has a full sense for this project other than us, since nobody can play it yet.  That's very different from a released game, where others can have just as detailed of knowledge of at least what is there (if not what is planned) as us.

So again, it's very new territory for us in having this sort of early PR.  So far it's working pretty well I think, but I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings by declining to debate on whatever topic.  But at the same time I can't take my eye off the ball.  But I do read what people post, so it's not like things go into a vacuum.  So always feel free to share thoughts and opinions, but I just am exempting myself for the time being from having to explain why I don't agree if I don't agree. ;)  We'll see if people accept that exemption, if course.  But hopefully the sting is taken out of that by the fact that we will be more willing to engage in our usual style of discussion about this game once it's actually in player's hands.

That's what I was trying, but failing, to convey with that one sentence disclaimer thing.  Hope that makes sense!
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Offline Flatfingers

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2011, 02:49:56 PM »
Message received. :)

Honestly, if I were in your things on your feet I'd make the same call. Most people just don't realize the number of things that have to be designed and coded and tested in a game of any size -- if even a few of the core elements were open to debate, you'd never finish implementing the darn thing.

I appreciate being extended the privilege to comment here. So for myself I promise not to expect any changes to design elements of the pre-alpha AVWW just on my say-so. And when discussing design concepts here, I'll try to be careful not to sound like I'm seeking to influence you.

Thanks for taking the time to clarify.

Now, what shall we talk about until the public alpha? :D

I should have said earlier: the ideas in my initial post here were intended to be an invitation to further discussion. I'm interested in hearing what others think about these aspects of AVWW specifically and character-based world exploration games generally.

Offline Zhaine

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2011, 02:58:12 PM »
I agree with a lot of what you said, and I really liked the comment about crafting being exploration of a system :)

That said, I love leveling! Not something I can justify any more than my love of heavy metal or cheese, but I do!

Offline x4000

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2011, 03:27:14 PM »
Thanks for understanding -- and contributing!
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Offline Flatfingers

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2011, 04:20:57 PM »
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I really liked the comment about crafting being exploration of a system.

Thanks! That actually brings up a couple of interesting definitional questions: What is crafting? And what is exploration?

Because it's how most MMORPGs implement crafting these days, a lot of people have come to believe that "crafting" is about making stuff to sell. In other words, crafting to these gamers is just another form of competitive play, only in the economic sphere instead of combat.

But there's another way to understand crafting, and that is as the exploration of a system for making things. Seen in this light, making things is not a means to some other end (economic domination); instead, it's something you do because you enjoy creating new things. In this sense, building crazy structures and objects in Minecraft is a form of crafting -- it's the act of exploring the space of things that can be constructed from blocks.

And speaking of exploring, it is also subject to some definitional discussion. Most people think of exploration in the purely physical sense: walking around and mapping the local geography. But "exploration" has a much deeper, richer meaning: it's the mapping of any unknown system. When scientists study star formation or animal behavior (etc.), they're really mapping the topology and extents of the unknown in each field.

This holds true for world-based games (including MMORPGs) as well. Exploring a gameworld is not just mapping out the "physical" spaces of locations -- it's the act of discovering how the dynamic systems of that gameworld function. In this sense, crafting is a system that can be explored. It's an interactive process by which inputs are converted according to specific rules into outputs... and figuring out those rules is where the joy of exploration is found. Exploring systems of magic and even combat work the same way.

So a good question for any world-y game is: how much is there to explore beyond just physical areas?

Anyone else interested in this kind of thing?

Offline freykin

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2011, 05:59:10 PM »
I also liked your comment about crafting being exploration of a system.  I tend to love crafting in whatever game I'm playing, and pursue it to its fullest.  I remember spending hours upon hours in Legend of Mana with a friend, trying to figure out the ideal pattern of materials and elements to make the ultimate weapon.

I'm that guy who would rather make the fancy sword of slaying than kill the big bad to get it.  It gives me more of a feeling of ownership, especially if the crafting system is robust enough for me to really customize what I'm creating.

Really looking forward to AVWW, definitely pre-ordering once it's possible to :).

Offline Morslok

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #9 on: February 08, 2011, 06:02:52 PM »
But "exploration" has a much deeper, richer meaning: it's the mapping of any unknown system... the act of discovering how the dynamic systems of that gameworld function. Exploring systems of magic and even combat work the same way.

This actually reminded me immediately of Magicka. That game is basically about this sort of exploration of their magic system, and even the way that your results react with the results of other players. Pretty heavy stuff for a 10 dollar game. There definitely is something to be said for systems that are built on relatively few "atomic" parts (like the 8 elements in Magicka) that combine and react with each other in interesting ways that are fun to explore and find the limits of.  So, using Magicka as an example of this, there are 8 elements, which can be combined in any group of up to 5, which can then be used in any of 4 ways (on self, on target, on weapon, and on immediate area). They seem like small numbers: 8, 5, 4. However, using those small numbers, we find that there are a potential* possible 149,792 combinations for any magical spell. "Greater than the sum of its parts" indeed!

* This is not the actual number of spells in Magicka as some elements do not mix with others, i.e. electricity and water, or fire and frost. There are still a very large number of spells to be found in that game, however. You can check my math if you want (since I am by no means a math wiz and am probably wrong), here's what I did: (((8^1)+(8^2)+(8^3)+(8^4)+(8^5))*4)

Offline BobTheJanitor

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #10 on: February 08, 2011, 06:13:31 PM »
Lately the way MMOs implement crafting is usually as a rather repetitive fetch-quest to find the keys to unlock whatever you craft. Find the Stick of Destiny and the Rock of Ruin and the String of Stringiness and combine them to make the Rock-On-A-Stick of Glory. And all these things are probably at the end of a massive dungeon and you'll all fight over who gets to keep which item. With the end result of multiple people who have bits of the item but very few who have the whole thing. But I digress. I'm a recovering MMO addict, sometimes I get flashbacks and need to go have a lie down in a cool room.

Crafting can be as basic as always combining A, B, and C in the same way to make X. Or it can be as complex as the lego worlds of Minecraft. I don't think any specifics for the AVWW crafting have been released yet, but I look forward to hearing the details as soon as they're available. :)

Offline Flatfingers

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #11 on: February 09, 2011, 12:57:14 AM »
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There definitely is something to be said for systems that are built on relatively few "atomic" parts (like the 8 elements in Magicka) that combine and react with each other in interesting ways that are fun to explore and find the limits of.

Absolutely -- combinatorial explosion can be a good way of generating so many possibilities that they're effectively infinite. This can work if the design goal you're after is surprise. (Note that while some gamers enjoy being surprised, for other gamers -- like those who think of crafting as manufacturing for sales -- surprise is something to be avoided. This is another example of really needing to understand your target audience before selecting a gameplay mechanic.)

On the other hand, combinatorial explosion, which creates possibilities that even the developer might never encounter during testing, runs directly opposite to the prevailing view in AAA games today, which is that the developer must control every nanosecond of play and rigidly define every possible thing that any player could ever do. The theory (as far as I can tell) seems to be that it costs so much to make a AAA that you absolutely have to script every single gameplay moment so as to insure that the player never gets bored even for a fraction of a second.

But you can't have that level of control if you're relying on combinatorial explosion to generate an effectively infinite number of possible outcomes in order to deliver surprise. Consequently you don't see a lot of developers deliberately designing their game so that players can generate tens of thousands of untested outcomes.

Is that a Good Thing? Or a Bad Thing?

Quote
Lately the way MMOs implement crafting is usually as a rather repetitive fetch-quest to find the keys to unlock whatever you craft. Find the Stick of Destiny and the Rock of Ruin and the String of Stringiness and combine them to make the Rock-On-A-Stick of Glory.

Actually, you're right. A case in point is Star Trek Online, where I was shocked too see (during beta) that "crafting" in STO consists of (for example) collecting one phaser cannon, five hand phasers, and five samples of radioactive ore, then personally bringing those items to an NPC... who takes them and hands you in return a phaser cannon with marginally better stats.

???

My feeling is that not only is "NPC exchanges one decent item for a bunch of collected junk" a pretty boring design for crafting in any MMORPG, I would argue that it's a particularly poor design choice for a MMORPG based on the world of Star Trek in which Science and Engineering play such large and active roles in nearly every story. Passive crafting in a Star Trek MMORPG means that the mechanics and the lore don't reinforce each other, and that's a major lost opportunity for memorable gameplay.

(Please note that this analysis of a particular design element is not intended to be harsh toward either STO the game or Cryptic the developer. I disagree strongly with one of Cryptic's design decisions for the objective reasons given, but that's it; I won't participate in any "beat up on Cryptic/STO" threads.)

I won't try to speak to any specifics of crafting in AVWW here; we just don't know enough yet. But I will add that I'm still a fan of part of how crafting was implemented in the original Star Wars Galaxies MMORPG. The resource system was one of the most brilliant bits of game design I've ever seen. The rest of the design (such as experimentation) was fairly pedestrian -- minimally functional, but not exciting -- but the way that the attributes of input resources affected some characteristics of the output products was sheer greatness. It actually made resource mining a playable game in its own right despite having almost no real support in the form of gameplay mechanics. Being a resource miner just emerged on its own as viable gameplay as players realized it was both fun and lucrative.

At any rate, crafting is definitely something I'm looking forward to hearing more about for AVWW, even if the decision is that it should be constrained to being a minimal part of the whole game experience.

Offline BobTheJanitor

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Re: Some Thoughts on Design Elements So Far
« Reply #12 on: February 09, 2011, 10:40:34 AM »
If you're allowing combining things in many ways, there are basically two ways I could see you going about it. Either you'd have to hard code in a result for absolutely every combination, or you'd have to give every item certain attributes but not precisely predefine what happens when they go together, so you end up with a more emergent system. (I'm generalizing like mad here, my coding experience is laughably tiny, like a few classes back in college and that's it) Magicka is a good example actually, because it does a bit of both. You can find specific spells where combining the right elements in the right order and hitting a button will always cast a blizzard or summon a phoenix or whatever. But then you also have the individual elements that all have their own properties, like water gets people wet, arcane always forms a beam, earth always throws a projectile, and so on. The first leads to expected results every time, the second... not so much. In fact it seems that a 'best' spell has already accidentally emerged from the combination of properties system. You're not supposed to be able to combine water and lightning magic, they cancel out. But if you combine water with fire, you get steam. And steam can be combined with lightning, which may have been an oversight. Because that combo will wet your opponents, which doubles the damage of lightning magic. So the strongest attack in the game is now to combine water, fire, lightning, and then arcane to make a beam which will stack ridiculous damage and take out even the strongest monsters in a few seconds.

Any system where the game can surprise you with the results is always fun. Going back to the static crafting in MMOs, it seems dull and dreary by comparison.